Chamber board votes to rescind Jeff Park SSA plan due to concerns residents would pay tax
by BRIAN NADIG
The Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce is planning to pull the plug on its proposal to create a taxing body to fund beautification and marketing initiatives for the business district due to concerns that the owners of 501 residential properties would have been required to pay the tax.
Chamber president Lionel Rabb said that the chamber will continue to explore the possibility of creating a Special Service Area in the future but that it is best to delay the initiative and work on ways that would exclude residential owners from the boundaries of the service area. "This is not the end of the game," he said.
The chamber was hoping to become the 54th service area in the city, but the chamber plans to inform that the city it it is withdrawing its application. The chamber faces paying a bill of up to $25,000 from a consultant who prepared the documents for the application and conducted a feasibility study of the service area proposal. Next year the chamber could have sought to be reimbursed for the consultant’s fees from funds generated from the service area.
City policy requires the boundaries of a service area to be contiguous and prohibits any properties on the affected street from being excluded. Evanston officials have a different interpretation of the state law which authorizes municipalities to create service areas and have allowed condominiums which are located above storefronts to be excluded.
Rabb said that he has talked to city officials and that the city was unwilling to alter its policy. He said that the chamber may ask state legislators to sponsor legislation which would require more flexibility on the city’s policy.
The chamber had proposed a special service area budget of $220,000 for 2016, and an additional $80,000 of funds raised from the service area tax would have gone to the Jefferson Park Tax Increment Financing District, which the city uses to fund infrastructure improvements. The annual tax levy for the service area would be set by a commission of local merchants and property owners.
About a third of the funds raised for the service area would have come from residential properties. The proposed boundaries primarily were along Lawrence Avenue between the Kennedy Expressway and Austin Avenue and along Milwaukee Avenue between Montrose Avenue and the expressway.
About 750 properties would have been included in the service area. In communities that have a service area, the tax is collected as part of the property tax bills issued by the county.
In Jefferson Park, owners would have paid an average of $172 a year and commercial property owners $1,100 a year, based on the 2016 budget. There is a service area for the Six Corners shopping district, and the commission for that service area recently approved an approximately 25 percent increase in its budget.
Jefferson Park resident Ron Ernst, whose home would have been in the service area, told the chamber board that notification letters informing taxpayers of the proposal were confusing and not clear. He said that the letters should have included the amount of tax that the property owner would have paid.
Rabb said that the chamber will endure despite the financial challenges it faces by not having a service area and that the board’s decision does not mean that the business district will suffer as a result. "The question is does the pot of gold automatically make a community better?" Rabb asked prior to the chamber board’s approval to rescind its service area application.
The board at its Aug. 13 meeting voted 5-3, with one abstention, to have the application withdrawn. Seven board members were not present for the vote, but there was a quorum.
Rabb said that the motion to rescind was consistent with concerns expressed at previous chamber meetings. In June, the board voted to have the SSA application move forward but also approved a second motion requiring that the chamber work with the city to remove the residences from the service area.
The city Department of Planning and Development has been preparing an ordinance creating the service area, and plans call for it to be introduced this fall at City Council.
Alderman John Arena (45th) has said that he supports having a service area in Jefferson Park but that he would support excluding the residences if the city allowed it. Supporters of the proposal say that both commercial and residential owners would benefit from an improved business district and that property values would rise as a result.
Service area funds can be used to recruit new businesses. The Six Corners Commission allocates funds to market the business district to developers and leasing agents.
Editor’s note: Nadig is an officer of the chamber. He recused himself from the board’s vote.